The 12 houses are division of the sky used in astrology to denote 12 distinct areas of life. where each house begins is called a cusp.

what is the role of a house?

each planet has supposed attributes and the location of a planet within the houses can give perspective on how these attributes are exercised within the different areas of our lives.

for example:

so a person with venus within the 1st house may be perceived by others to be of great beauty and grace. they will be friendly and outgoing.

what do each of the houses mean?

how are the houses determined?

the houses are not determined by any astronomical factors. they are static and do not move. no matter what time of day it is, the ascendant (the 1st house cusp) is always the eastern horizon and the descendant (the 7th house cusp) is always the western horizon. if you look straight up into the sky you are looking at the 10th house cusp.

                          | midheaven
                          |
                   .------+------.
                  /  \ 10 | 9  /  \
                 / 11 \   |   /  8 \
                /._    \  |  /    _.\
               /   "._  \ | /  _."   \
              | 12    "._\|/_."    7  |
ascendant ----+----------:+:----------+---- descendant
              | 1     _."/|\"._    6  |
               \   _."  / | \  "._   /
                \."    /  |  \    "./
                 \ 2  /   |   \  5 /
                  \  /  3 | 4  \  /
                   `------+------'
                          |  
                          | nadir

it may be easier to understand the houses if we take a real world example:

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